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    “Mad dogs” threaten life in early Canada

    Human rabies—once called hydrophobia—is now rare in Canada, but packs of “mad dogs,” some of them rabid, menaced the lives of people and livestock in towns and farms during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries

    People get rabbies only from the bite of a rabid animal or, more rarely, when the virus comes in contact “with the moist tissues of the mouth, nose or eyes,” says an advisory note from the Ontario Ministry of the Environment. Most rabid animals are either wild or are feral cats or dogs—domestic pets gone wild.

    Left untreated, rabies is usually fatal, within a short period. Washing bite wounds from a rabid animal with soap and water is “one of the most effective ways to decrease the chance for infection,” according to the U.S. Centre for Disease Control. But vaccination is sometimes needed.

    Some rabid animals “appear to be ‘mad’: frothing at the mouth and biting anything that gets in their way,” says the Ontario ministry. Hence the mad dog stories. Some rabid animals, however, look innocent and harmless, showing few symptoms of the disease.

    Ontario was known as the Rabies Capital of North America in fairly recent years, because of its large numbers of rabid raccoons, foxes, skunks and other wild animals. But the ministry says their numbers were reduced by 98 percent in the decade ended in 2012, thanks to a control program and a developed-in-Ontario rabies vaccine.

    Even when Ontario seemed most infested with wild rabid animals, there were few cases of human rabies, in recent decades. In 2012, Toronto reported its first human rabies in more than 80 years, but the man was infected not in Canada but in the Caribbean island of Hispaniola. The last recorded person to die of rabies was a young girl near Ottawa who had been bitten by a kitten in 1967. Throughout Canada there were only three cases of rabies during the 12-year period ending mid-2012, all of them bitten by infected bats.

    Rabies was a much greater menace in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, when mad dog stories proliferated in the newspapers.

    Quebec City appeared to be overrun with packs of wild dogs, the Quebec Mercury reported on June, 25, 1825. A child had been operated on after being bitten by a dog that was possibly rabid. A horse rider was almost pitched to his death over the steep wall that divides Upper and Lower Quebec.

    “We saw the horse of a young gentleman who was riding in St. George’s street at a moderate pace, assailed by at least a dozen of these curs, barking and biting at his heels, which caused him to set off at speed,” the Mercury editor wrote. “Fortunately, the rider possessed both nerve and strength, and succeeded in stopping the affrightened animal, just as he reached the end of the street. A timid or less powerful horseman would in all probability have been thrown over the Battery railing into the Lower Town, and inevitably death must have ensued.”

    “The dreadful disease of hydrophobia is in the town,” the Kingston Chronicle and Gazette reported March 6, 1841. “An order has been issued that after 12 o’clock noon this day, all dogs found running at large will be immediately killed…. The great number of dogs now swarming the streets… have become a positive nuisance, not one in twenty being of the slightest use or value. We understand that several cases of hydrophobia have appeared at Loborough and Ganonoque.”

    In 1848, the Bathurst Courier reported that “two children have been bitten by a dog in a rabid state,” while “several cattle have been bitten… and had to be killed. The Courier item was republished in the Toronto Globe, July 15.

    The Winnipeg Times, April 20, 1883, advised that to avoid hydrophobia a “good, but noisy method, is to wear sheet iron clothes.”

    TAGS Rabies,Mad Dogs,Hydrophobia,Wild animals,Feral animals

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